ARCHIVED - Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education


Key Concepts

When discussing sexual health issues it is important to acknowledge that terms and concepts may have different and sometimes confl icting meanings for diverse individuals and groups. This document recognizes and embraces these differences which can arise from diversity in cultural, environmental and community norms and values. To help facilitate the effective use of the Guidelines the following key concepts are defined using sources that refl ect this broad understanding.


As defined by the World Health Organization, “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Reference Number 11,

This definition captures the notion of ‘positive health’, which involves not only the elimination of specific health problems, but also “improved quality of life, efficient functioning, the capacity to perform at more productive and satisfying levels, and the opportunity to live out one’s lifespan with vigor and stamina.” Reference Number 22,

Research demonstrates that factors outside the health care system can significantly affect an individual’s health and sense of wellness. This broader notion of health recognizes the wide range and complex interactions between social, economic, physical and environmental factors that contribute to health and individual well-being. Reference Number 33, Sexual health is an often overlooked, yet vitally important aspect of an individual’s sense of health and personal wellness.

Health Promotion

“Health promotion is the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve their health.” Reference Number 44,

“Health promotion has emerged as a cornerstone of contemporary public health that aims to advance the physical, social, [sexual, reproductive], and mental health of the wider community.” Reference Number 55,

“Health promotion represents a comprehensive social and political process, it not only embraces actions directed at strengthening the skills and capabilities of individuals, but also action directed towards changing social, environmental and economic conditions so as to alleviate their impact on public and individual healt” Reference Number 66,

Health Education

“Health education is not only concerned with the communication of information, but also with fostering the motivation, skills and confidence (self-efficacy) necessary to take action to improve health. Health education includes the communication of information concerning the underlying social, economic and environmental conditions impacting on health, as well as individual risk factors and risk behaviours and use of the health system.” Reference Number 66,


“Sexuality is a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviours, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.” Reference Number 07 7,

As a result of these multiple infl uences, sexuality is best understood as a complex, fluid and dynamic set of forces that are an integral aspect of an individual’s sense of identity, social well-being and personal health.

Sexual Health

“Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.” Reference Number 77,

“Sexual health is influenced by a complex web of factors ranging from sexual behaviour, attitudes and societal factors, to biological risk and genetic predisposition. It encompasses the problems of HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)/reproductive tract infections (RTIs), unintended pregnancy and abortion, infertility and cancer resulting from STIs, and sexual dysfunction. Sexual health can also be influenced by mental health, acute and chronic illnesses, and violence.” Reference Number 77,

Sexual Health Education

Sexual health education is the process of equipping individuals, couples, families and communities with the information, motivation and behavioural skills needed to enhance sexual health and avoid negative sexual health outcomes.

Sexual health education is a broadly based, community-supported process that requires the full participation of educational, medical, public health, social welfare and legal institutions in our society. It involves an individual’s personal, family, religious, social and cultural values in understanding and making decisions about sexual behaviour and implementing those decisions.

Effective sexual health education maintains an open and nondiscriminatory dialogue that respects individual beliefs. It is sensitive to the diverse needs of individuals irrespective of their age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, physical/cognitive abilities and religious background.

Sexual Rights

“Sexual rights embrace human rights that are already recognized in national laws, international human rights documents and other consensus statements. They include the right of all persons, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, to:

  • the highest attainable standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services;
  • seek, receive and impart information related to sexuality;
  • sexuality education;
  • respect for bodily integrity;
  • choose their partner;
  • decide to be sexually active or not;
  • consensual sexual relations;
  • consensual marriage;
  • decide whether or not, and when, to have children; and
  • pursue a satisfying, safe and pleasurable sexual life.

The responsible exercise of human rights requires that all persons respect the rights of others.” Reference Number 77,

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